The Tzer Island book blog features book reviews written by TChris, the blog's founder.  I hope the blog will help readers discover good books and avoid bad books.  I am a reader, not a book publicist.  This blog does not exist to promote particular books, authors, or publishers.  I therefore do not participate in "virtual book tours" or conduct author interviews.  You will find no contests or giveaways here.

The blog's nonexclusive focus is on literary/mainstream fiction, thriller/crime/spy novels, and science fiction.  While the reviews cover books old and new, in and out of print, the blog does try to direct attention to books that have been recently published.  Reviews of new (or newly reprinted) books generally appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Reviews of older books appear on occasional Sundays.  Readers are invited and encouraged to comment.  See About Tzer Island for more information about this blog, its categorization of reviews, and its rating system.

Sunday
Oct242010

The Forge of God by Greg Bear

First published in 1987

Visiting aliens deliver conflicting messages.  An alien emerging from a newly formed mountain in the United States warns that invaders are about to destroy the earth with a process that will harvest raw materials to build ships that will go on to destroy other worlds.  Robots emerging from a newly formed boulder in Australia claim that they are benevolent deliverers of new technologies from which the Earth will benefit.  Scientists attempt to puzzle out the truth, although their efforts soon prove to be unnecessary as the danger to the planet becomes apparent.

I found it interesting to read a novel that departs from a standard science fiction formula: quick thinking humans outsmart nasty aliens who invade or attempt to destroy the Earth. The Forge of God acknowledges that alien technology may well be superior to ours, and that humans may be powerless to stop aliens who are determined to destroy planets.

The technical aspects surrounding the planet's destruction and attempts to evacuate were well done. The story held my interest, but given the drama surrounding the planet's end, I thought the story was less engaging than it could have been. The key human characters (geologists, an astronomer and his family, the president and a Bible thumper) are fairly one dimensional while the aliens (good and bad) are given no characterization at all.

The story's fast pace makes it a quick and easy read. The novel was sufficiently entertaining to earn a recommendation, but there's nothing stellar about this story of interstellar invasion.

RECOMMENDED

Saturday
Oct232010

Catch a Falling Spy by Len Deighton

First published in 1976

Catch a Falling Spy (also published under the title Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy) is a well crafted spy thriller that incorporates elements of dark comedy with gritty action, suspense, and a noir atmosphere. The characters lack the depth of Bernard Sampson, the star of many of Deighton's later novels, but they are nonetheless convincing.

British agent Harry Palmer teams with CIA agent Mickey Mann to help Bekuv, a Russian scientist, defect.   Their mission leads them to a dangerous encounter in the Sahara Desert.  Once they finally have him in a place of safety, Bekuv refuses to cooperate unless his beautiful young wife, Katerina, joins him.  An assassination attempt and the emergence of a secret society of Ruyssian scientists contribute to the intrigue.  Added to the ever growing list of characters who may or may not be traitors are a U.S. senator, the senator's aide, and Harry Dean, a washed up CIA operative who is found with an embarrassing amount of cash in his private stash.  Is anyone to be trusted?  Only by reading to the conclusion of this exciting story can the reader answer that question.

Deighton mixes credible, fast-moving action scenes with psychological drama in a novel that takes the reader on a wild journey.  While not as complex as Deighton's later work, Catch a Falling Spy offers an early example of this fine spy novelist's talent.

RECOMMENDED

Wednesday
Oct202010

Bitter Angels by C.L. Anderson

Published by Spectra on August 25, 2009

Terese Drajeske, a former guardian of the saints, is called back to active duty.  The saints do good works on the planets comprising the United World Government. The guardians endeavor to keep the peace without killing anyone (usually by gluing people to walls).  Drajeske goes to the Erasmus System to circumvent an attack upon certain of its planets.  She brings along Siri (who hooks into a communications network) and Vijay, who works undercover.  Other principles are a cop on Erasmus, Amerand, who is working to find his enslaved mother (he arranged for his enslaved father to work for him), and a doctor, Emiliya.

Bitter Angels tells its story from shifting points of view.  That technique can be difficult to execute but Anderson handled it nicely, merging the different perspectives into a seamless storyline.  The concept of a guardian force that keeps peace without killing is a nice departure from plots that rely on violence for an easy (if unimaginative) injection of excitement.  The twisty plot, while a bit Byzantine, builds suspense with a mix of political intrigue and fast action. Terese is a fully developed example of the reluctant hero--and for that reason is a more interesting character than is standard fare in fast-action sf novels.

If C.L. Anderson (the pen name of Sara Zettel) writes a sequel to Bitter Angels, I'll buy it. 

RECOMMENDED

Monday
Oct182010

The Light of Day by Eric Ambler

First published in 1962

Arthur Simpson--petty thief, unemployed journalist, and occasional tourist guide--is one of Eric Ambler's finest creations. The son of an Egyptian mother and British father, Simpson is embittered by the unwillingness of either nation to claim him as one of its own.

When caught in the act of burglarizing a hotel room in Athens, Simpson is blackmailed into driving a Lincoln to Istanbul. Of course, the plan does not go well for Simpson, who soon finds himself caught between the schemers who induced him to make the trip and the Turkish police, who want to use him for their own ends. This well-paced thriller is sprinkled with moments of levity, nicely balancing the darkness that enshrouds Simpson as he becomes embroiled in a criminal plot. While the criminal characters are not as fully developed as Simpson, the novel works because Ambler makes the reader see the world through Simpson's eyes and feel his mounting sense of dread as events unfold.

Ambler creates an effective atmosphere.  Even when there seems to be little action, Ambler keeps the story in motion -- there's always something happening that holds the reader's attention.  There are elements of a mystery in the story as Simpson tries to discover the purpose of driving the Lincoln to Istanbul, but that secret is revealed well before the novel's end. At that point, suspense builds as Simpson finds himself caught between the desires of the police and the crooks. The suspense is palpable, and for that reason I recommend The Light of Day as a true thriller.

RECOMMENDED

Sunday
Oct172010

Red Planet by Robert Heinlein

First published in 1949

Jim Marlowe lives with his sister and parents on Mars.  Jim's life inside the colony and his Martian adventures beyond its borders are the subject of Robert Heinlein's Red Planet.

The 1949 novel is vintage Heinlein. Characters rant about bureaucracy, regulations, and limitations on personal freedom (the unfettered right to bear arms is sacred), themes that reappear often in Heinlein's later work. Although Red Planet is characterized as a "juvenile"--and although I was thoroughly entertained by it when I read it as a teenager--the story retains enormous appeal for adult fans of science fiction. While lacking the complexity of Heinlein's later work, the novel showcases Heinlein's vivid imagination and his stalwart belief in the ability of individuals to meet challenges posed both by hostile environments and by muddle-headed humans.  It has aged well.

RECOMMENDED